Yassmin Abdel-Magied: The root cause of violence against women is gender inequality


Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Yassmin Abdel-Magied at the Our Watch framework launch at Parliament House, Canberra on 10th November 2015.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied at the Our Watch framework launch at Parliament House, Canberra on 10th November 2015. Photo: Mark Graham

One fish asks another fish: "How's the water?"

The other fish replies, "What is water?"

If you're surrounded by something, it is very difficult to know that it is there. 

In the same way we can become oblivious to our physical surroundings, our cultural norms are such that we can often face difficulty naming them or even realising they are all around us. This becomes especially problematic when the accepted social norms cause societal diseases and enable indiscriminate harm.


Violence against women is one of those societal diseases. We talk about statistics that are almost beyond belief: in Australia, we bury a women murdered by a current or former partner every week. Every. Week. Statistically, almost every time you are in a group with more than three women, someone in that group has suffered from physical violence. It's just not okay. It's horrifying.

So in fact no, violence against women is more than simply a disease and more than just an urgent matter for our parliament, left for policy change and government departments to solve. Violence against women is a complex issue that affects us all and, to tackle it, each and every one of us has a part to play.

You may be thinking, "Well. I have heard this before. We know there should be no place for violence against women in society. What is new in this tale? How can I make any change?"

On Tuesday, violence prevention organisation Our Watch has released a framework called Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia. It identifies the drivers and enablers of the slaughter in our suburbs.

The root cause: gender inequality.

We live in a society where the inequality is so pervasive, so embedded in everything we do, that often we don't realise it's there. However, the evidence in Change the story shows that while there is no single cause of violence against women, it is significantly more likely to occur where gender inequality is ingrained in social, cultural and organisational structures and practices. Look around and take notice. Gender inequality exists everywhere, from the pink and blue toy store aisles to the gender pay gap, and this engenders an environment that allows violence against women to occur.

The insidious things we do add to tapestry of inequality we wrap ourselves so warmly in. Whether it is the fact that we double take if we see a young boy playing with a barbie doll, or think that sexist banter is socially acceptable, the small things we let slide form the fabric of an unequal society. Which ultimately give way to power imbalances. Which can ultimately give way to violence.

As pervasive and intractable the issue may seem, it is possible to change. We have named the underlying cause of the violence. Now that we know what we are dealing with, we can go about breaking it down.

I am thrilled at the opportunity to join the Board of Directors for Our Watch and to be working with the team on such an important issue, particularly as it coincides with the launch of Change the story, which sets the scene incredibly well – particularly through the accompanying video – and also reinforces the powerful work being done in the sector already.

Furthermore, joining the Board is an opportunity to ensure the perspectives of culturally and linguistically diverse communities and women are reflected at a decision making table.

It has been proven time and time again, across various areas where behavioural change is required, that different communities need to be engaged in ways that suit them in order to affect real lasting change. Culturally and linguistically diverse communities have unique sets of challenges and thus, the communities need to be engaged in manners that respect their cultural practices and their communal value set but at the same time, not excuse behaviour that is harmful and damaging. It is a fine line, but hopefully one that Our Watch can walk alongside the organisations in the sector who deal in this space.

Deep, lasting social change will take time and will be uncomfortable. However that discomfort is where real learning and growth occurs. Each and every one of us has a role to play in tackling violence against women and we can do so by calling out gender equality wherever and whenever we see it. Whether it's a comment about woman's dress, or someone telling a young boy to 'stop acting like a girl', by nipping gender inequalities in the bud we will be addressing the pervasive environment that allows violence against women to occur. It will be difficult, there is no doubt, but it is so worth it.